The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: Who is the best non-Steelers defensive player in the AFC North right now?
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that there would be many votes for a Steelers defensive player even if I included them in this conversation. Cameron Heyward would get his votes, but he is surely the only one. Ryan Shazier, of course, would have had a chance at ‘winning’ this conversation if he were able to play this season.
The AFC North is not quite what it used to be a few years ago, but there are still quality defensive players scattered throughout the division. Some of them Pro Bowlers, even an All-Pro talent or two are mixed in.
Which of them most stands out to you? Geno Atkins, the defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, has given the Steelers’ offensive line fits for years now, as he has many other teams. Brandon Williams of the Baltimore Ravens is a run-stopping headache. For the Cleveland Browns, Myles Garrett is the emerging talent along the line as an edge rusher entering his second season.
The Ravens, Bengals, and Browns all have quality players at the linebacker level as well. Baltimore’s C.J. Mosely in particular has been a perennial Pro Bowler. Vontaze Burfict, in spite of his issues, is a better inside linebacker than anybody the Steelers have. And the Browns have Jamie Collins and just added Mychal Kendricks.
Baltimore added Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson at safety over the past two years. Cincinnati has George Iloka, while Cleveland has Jabrill Peppers, another second-year player. William Jackson III, Jimmy Smith, and Denzel Ward figure to be their top cornerbacks, assuming they are healthy.
Then there is Terrell Suggs, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Pierce, and several other names worthy of mention. I don’t think there is any doubt that there is talent on the defensive side of the ball in the AFC North. But which talent would you choose over all others?